Friday Fives: What it’s like being Married to Graduate School

As many of you are aware John Paul and I have been married for five years now.  When you marry someone you get everything about them, you deal with wars over cold toes in bed, their taste in food, their family becomes your family, and if you happen to be married to someone going for a (or several in some cases…) advanced degree you also marry the process that goes into earning a PhD.  This also means that your life is pretty much planned around when semesters start, ends, when spring break is this year, test dates (for both your sweet sweet lover and the undergrads they teach), submittel deadlines, conferences, study/teach abroad opportunities, prelims/comps, dissertation writing, etc.  It can be a LOT to deal with.

So back to that part where we’ve been married for five years — for those who don’t know, JP and I got married the first of August 2009, honeymooned for a week and a halfish, he defended his MA thesis, we moved to Indiana and he started the PhD program and Purdue all within the first three weeks of wedded bliss.  Fast forward to halfway through our time in Hamburg, JP decides that he want’s to move to another more Germanic Studies geared program and applies to IU, and of course he gets in.  And now we’re back at IU after a wonderful year in Berlin.  Needless to say, the last five years have been very very full for us.  All the while I’ve played the part of wife to the graduate student, meaning that I think I’ve figured out a thing or two about how to do it and how not to do it so we’re both more or less happy with life most of the time. So internet, here are five of the things the last five years have taught me:

one// You CAN survive on one small graduate studies salary. When we moved to Indiana I was freshly out of school with my Bachelors in a VERY lucrative field.  Didn’t matter because not only was the economy in the *ahem* crapper, but Indiana was hit pretty hard.  For the first couple months we survived on what savings we had and JP’s humanities stipend from Purdue (and let me tell you, Purdue does NOT fund the humanities very well…). I did end up finally getting a job at Michael’s (which looking back was more stress than it was worth), and given we never knew how many hours I would work from one pay period to the next, we pretty much stuck with the stipend for budgeting.  Were we living in the “lap of luxury”, no, but were we making it every month on less than $1200? yes we were.  We had a roof over our heads, heat in the winter, gas in the car, and we were able to do a few fun things like movies, dinner and going to Indy.  We just had to budget it 🙂

two// Your spouse WILL be on the grumpier/stressed out side.  This can be for any number of reasons, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you are NOT (99% of the time) the cause of it.  Yes you have stressful things going on in your life, but most of the time the non-academic spouse won’t get an email 90 minutes before a meeting that was only mentioned in passing by a faculty member OR get reminded that they were SUPPOSED to have turned something in that was also mentioned in passing, causing the day (homework, grading, and home obligations) to be completely shaken up.  Seriously, this happened just yesterday, so instead of a nice lunch together and going with me to Hobby Lobby to look for print frames, JP had to write a quiz, pack in doing a translation for one of the dead languages he’s taking this semester, and go to a (pointless – my words) meeting all before class. Oy.

Back when I was new to this whole being-married-to-a-grad-student thing, things like this would bug the hell out of me and I’d get offended by his stress and grumpiness levels, which in turn just made him even more stressed out and grumpy!  Then once I *finally* figured out that I wasn’t making things better I learned to roll with the stress and have become the “zen center” of our lives.  Does this mean that I’m not allowed to be stressed-the-what-out or grumpy either?  No of course not, but I found out that being zen-y and supportive has made his life much better.

three// Do not take them saying “No” or “Later” personally.  Again, this was something that really got to me when we were first married.  Like really got to me, and might have spurred a few major pout sessions and/or fights… yeah… not my proudest moments.  There have been times when there have been things, usually mid-week, though also on weekends, that I’ve really wanted to do, but due to the workload/stress levels just weren’t possible.  I’ve (thankfully) learned that even if he says that something isn’t possible, I’ll usually be surprised later on and we’ll do something awesome.

four// Schedule schedule schedule.  This has a couple of different parts associated with it.  First off, realize that your life will be split into two calendar-wise: the university’s academic calendar and the one that everyone else uses.  This means that you will need to be on TOP of everything.  For this reason we both have planners AND one of those desk pad calendars that hangs on the wall next to our computer.  As long as things get written down somewhere we’re good!

five// Grad School is TEMPORARY. This is a mantra that you’ll not only end up telling yourself this, but this will be something you’ll need to remind your graduate student spouse, because, let’s be honest, there will be times where it will feel like grad school will never end, but like most things it will.  You just gotta keep your chins up until then.


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